Thursday, June 21, 2018

England meets Texas: Jenny Stocker's walled garden (#gbfling2018)

Many of you know Jenny Stocker through her blog Rock Rose and are familiar with her garden in suburban Austin. But seeing photos of a garden is one thing, even if it's hundreds, if not thousands, of photos over a number of years. Visiting it in person is something else entirely. It's a somewhat surreal experience—like a lucid dream where you find yourself in a place that's both new and familiar at the same time. When I finally had the opportunity to tour Jenny's garden during the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling, I took hundreds of photos myself. I hope that I managed to capture a few angles you haven't seen before.

If you're not familiar with the Stockers, here's a brief intro. Jenny and her husband David are transplants from England who came to the US in 1967. After gardening elsewhere in Austin, they built their dream home in 2000 and started their current garden right after the house was finished. In this post you'll see their house and garden from air as well as some photos of the early days.

Jenny describes her garden like this:
Our idea was to have space in which I could garden deer-free. So the house was built with surrounding walls. We also like to eat outdoors and have our morning coffee or afternoon tea outside, so creating areas for that became our next priority. In winter we needed a sheltered, sunny spot, and in summer a shaded spot. So we have 6 areas we use depending on the time of the year and time of day. 
You'll see all of that in the course of this post. But let's start at the street where the bus dropped us off. The first thing you notice are trees. Lots of them. It's a miniature forest!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Brian's East Bay front yard transformed into a colorful desert garden

I've seen quite a few front yard conversions in recent years, driven by the historic drought as much as turf replacement rebates from local water districts and the State of California. But few conversions have been as complete and as successful as what my friend Brian has achieved at this home in Concord.

Brian has gone from the quintessential suburban front yard—a rarely used expanse of front lawn and some shrubbery along the sidewalk and driveway—to a garden bursting with beauty and life: All the pollinators for whom the previous incarnation was a wasteland now have a smorgasbord that is as never-ending as the California sun. In addition, Brian's water consumption has dropped to a fraction of what it had been before. I don't think you could do much better than that.

Here's a before and after:


Now let's take a closer look.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Hot Color, Dry Garden

Dry garden: Many of us have that. Hot color: That's something everybody needs.

Garden writer, landscape designer and TV host Nan Sterman clearly thought so, too. Her new book Hot Color, Dry Garden (Timber Press 2018) puts an end, once and for all, to the misconception that water-wise gardens are a dull wasteland.


In fact, she busts three popular myths right out of the gate: that "low-water landscapes are brown, lifeless, and colorless," that "low-water gardens are scrubby and scrappy rather than lush and plant-filled," and that "low-water gardens are rocks and desert."

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Sizzle and pop: Southern California road trip curiosities

A busy spring has morphed into a busy summer. We just got back a from a quick 4-day road trip to Southern California to tour universities daughter #2 is interested in. Getting from Northern California to Southern California involves a goodly amount of driving on freeways which at this time of year range from merely busy to downright congested. In addition, traveling the length of the Central Valley from Sacramento to Bakersfield gets boring in no time. But every now and then you see random snippets of unassuming beauty that take your breath away:

Interstate 5, somewhere between nowhere and nowherer

Friday, June 8, 2018

Bittersweet symphony: flowering agaves

My love for agaves is no secret. They're eye candy, they have a don't-mess-with-me attitude, and no matter where you put them—in the ground or in a pot—they make a statement that cannot be denied.

Many agave species live for a long time, but when this happens, the end is near:

Agave utahensis var. nevadensis, April 7, 2018

Unlike perennials, which flower over and over again, virtually all agave species flower only once. They literally put all they've got into producing that one flower stalk. Even in a small agave like the Agave utahensis var. nevadensis above, the inflorescence is very tall in relation to the body of the agave.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Beauty can be a heavy burden—just ask this cactus

It's that time of year when the echinopsis in the front yard go into flower. We only have a few, but they're still quite a sight.

In the past, the flowers opened successively, prolonging the show (each flower lasts only a day, two at the most). This year, though, this Johnson's hybrid has six (!) flowers open at the same time:


It's a stunning spectacle!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin, TX (#gbfling2018)

The first garden we visited on the 2018 Garden Bloggers Fling in Austin, TX was the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Established in 1982 as the National Wildflower Research Center under the auspices of actress Helen Hayes and Lady Bird Johnson it moved to its current 42-acre site in 1995 and was renamed Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in 1997. The Center acquired an additional 237 acres in 2002, enabling it to pursue "larger scale research on the ecology of the Central Texas region and how best to restore healthy landscapes in the region." In 2006, the non-profit organization became part of the University of Texas at Austin.

Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson, was a committed environmentalist, working to preserve public lands for future generation and to "beautify" America. She was the driving force behind 200 environmental protection laws that were passed during her husband's administration. At the entrance to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which was opened on her 70th birthday in 1982, there's a quote by Lady Bird that perfectly summarizes her objectives:
My special cause, the one that alerts my interest and quickens the pace of my life, is to preserve the wildflowers and native plants that define the regions of our land—to encourage and promote their use in appropriate areas, and thus help pass on to generation in waiting the quiet jobs and satisfactions I have known since my childhood.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Desert Gardens of Steve Martino: a must-read for xeric gardeners

There was a time when I didn't know Steve Martino's name, but his signature aesthetic—vibrantly colored walls, sculptural desert plants, dramatic interplay of light and shadow—is something I've been familiar for as long as I can remember.

Previously, the only way you could see Steve Martino's work was in magazine articles. His website has great photos, but there are never enough for my taste. And with the majority of his projects being private residences, primarily in the Southwest, it's virtually impossible to visit them in person.

That's why I was so excited when a couple of years ago Steve Martino mentioned on his Facebook page that a book was in the works. That book is now here: Desert Gardens of Steve Martino, written by Caren Yglesias and photographed by Steve Gunther, published in April 2018 by Monacelli Press.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Mirador Garden: steel and succulents in Austin, TX (#gbfling2018)

I usually approach gardens that are completely new to me the same way I do thrillers or suspense movies: I try not to find out too much in advance so I can go into the experience without any preconceived ideas. I find that to be more enjoyable than seeing everything through somebody else's lens.

At the recent Garden Bloggers Fling in Austin, Texas we were given brief descriptions of each garden. I skimmed through them the night before to get a general sense but didn't read them carefully until afterwards. I might have missed a few things mentioned in the blurbs but I was able to let each garden "speak" to me on its own terms.

However, in my posts about the gardens we visited in Austin, I'll give you as much information beforehand as I can. That should help you better understand what you see in the photos.

The Mirador Garden was designed by Curt Arnette of Sitio Design. We visited Curt's own garden after the Fling; I'll have a separate post in a few weeks.

In the homeowner's words, Mirador Garden "was designed around low-water plants, and it was inspired by my travels. The fig arbor was influenced by one I saw in New Zealand. The steel-panel retaining walls out front were inspired by the botanical gardens in Sydney, Australia." (She's referring to the Jamie Durie-designed succulent garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens.)

The Corten retaining walls was the first thing I saw as I got off the bus, and I knew this garden would be special:



Thursday, May 24, 2018

Revisiting Marta's garden: succulents, edible fruits and more

One of my favorite gardens here in Davis is less than 10 minutes from my house. It belongs to my friend Marta Matvienko, a plant geneticist whose personal interests include rare and unusual fruits (at least rare and unusual for our area). Marta documents her growing experiences and fruit tasting impressions here.

But fruit trees aren't the only thing Marta and her husband Alex grow. In fact, the first thing you see approaching their house are the flower spikes of two blooming octopus agaves (Agave vilmoriniana). They are yellow beacons visible from a block away. I have no doubt they're extremely popular with bees and possibly hummingbirds.

Agave vilmoriniana flower stalks